Christians and foxes: further notes on Britain's culture war.
--G. K. Chesterton
Despite British Prime Minister Tony Blair's own high-profile Church attendance and declarations of piety, Christianity is not the least of targets in the present on-going culture war against British traditions and the core-values of British society.
The following instances give some indication of what is happening:
The Lottery Fund, giving grants to Gypsy, Tamil, American Indian, Irish and Congolese cultural activities, refused a relatively small application from the "Windsor Churches Coming Together Group" towards staging a presentation of Pentacost at a Whitsun service on the grounds that it "promoted Christianity."
In 1998 the Labour-run City of Birmingham council renamed Christmas "Winterval" so holiday celebrations would not be contaminated by Christian associations. This innovation was dropped after protests, but in October 2000 it was reported the same council planned to scrap school holidays for Easter, the most sacred festival of Christianity.
At Christmas 1998 local authorities granted permission for the congregation of a parish church to sing Christmas carols at the Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield, then rescinded the permission after deciding that the event was too religious and Christian. When it transpired that the permission could not in fact be withdrawn the authorities moved the time of the event to 7 p.m., when the centre was virtually closed, and advised members of the church not to preach anything about Christianity between the hymns.
The Broadcasting Standards Authority was asked to prevent the B.B.C. using the terms "B.C." and "A.D." for the same reason. The Government introduced an official "naming ceremony" to replace "Christening," with "supporting adults" instead of "godparents." Why anyone would bother with such a ceremony, except as an anti-Christian exercise, remained mysterious. The ceremony could be conducted by registrars anywhere "suitably dignified". After the head of religious broadcasting at the B.B.C., a Presbyterian Minister, resigned in December 2000, on the grounds that religion was being sidelined, the B.B.C. renamed the department Religion and Ethics and appointed an agnostic to head it.
The Bishop of Lincoln claimed that other churches had virtually abandoned the countryside and rural England would quickly return to paganism if the Church of England withdrew from those country parishes where it still retained a presence. (1) In The Guardian, Polly Toynbee claimed Christian church schools were "socially divisive anyway, a haven for the middle-classes". In January 2001, a church in Stockport was charged by the local council for advertising when it displayed a three-foot illuminated cross above the entrance. (2)
Hostility to Christianity hardly needed nomenklatura promotion. In 1997 there were 462 physical attacks on Christian clergymen, and some churches were sending clergymen on self-defence courses. Seventy per cent of London clergymen had been either assaulted or threatened with violence. With capitalism's prompt response to a perceived demand, a business in Bishop's Stortford took to making and marketing crucifixes for clergymen which carried personal alarms, flashing and making a screeching noise if grabbed by or waved at an assailant. (3) One in three churches would suffer from arson, theft or vandalism every year, and the closed church, like the closed village pub, is becoming an increasingly common feature of the English landscape.
Some American Franciscan friars in habits and sandals set up a small monastery ministering to people on a council estate in Canning Town, East London. Their leader, Father Richard, said: "Everyone here seems so angry, compared to New York. It's much worse in some ways. We have had rocks thrown at us but generally the welcome has been friendly enough. Kids look up at us in the street and say `Are you Jesus?' and our standard response is, `No, we're just working for him'." (4)
A survey by media buying agency MediaCom T.M.B., of 1,200 children aged between eight and sixteen in 2000, found only eight per cent associated Christmas with religion. (5) Meanwhile in July 2001, the Rev. Donald Allister, Vicar of Cheadle parish church, Stockport, refused to allow the hymns I Vow to Thee, My Country and William Blake's Jerusalem to be sung at a wedding because they were allegedly "too nationalistic", claiming that they were more suitable for an Army parade and that "Jerusalem" was "saying England is best." (This hymn was in fact a protest against the allegedly dehumanising effects of the Industrial Revolution.)
It was estimated that there were 100,000 adherents to witchcraft religions in Britain. Publishing to this market had, by the year 2000, become big business. One book, Spells for Teenage Witches, claimed: "Wicca is about helping little girls [sic] to have control over their own lives." (6) One of the largest international publishers produced The Little Voodoo Kit: Revenge Therapy for the Overstressed. This consisted of a doll, pins to insert into it and a short book by the pseudonymous Dr J. P. Poupette -- the French name is presumably supposed to have Haitian associations -- which advised on the use of the doll for best effects. (7)
Witchcraft had had vogues before, and indeed its alleged prevalence had been a factor in the politics leading to the American Revolution. However, for the first time since the Christianisation of Britain, there was now open Satanism on quite a large scale, though it is hard to know how much this was due to spiritual and how much to commercial considerations.
Shortly before Christmas 1999, a statue of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, in the likeness of the Virgin Mary was unveiled at the Tate Gallery in Liverpool. A spokesman claimed: "People now worship supermodels and pop stars and make pilgrimages to Graceland and Althorp Park rather than worshipping traditional religious figures." The New Statesman wrote:
"Diana ... became an icon for many feminists, even leftist ones ... She saw herself, increasingly, in mythic terms ... In her last interview, to the French daily Le Monde, she said that she saw her life as one of service, and added that `whoever needs me has only to call, and I will come running, wherever they are'. This claim, carved on the pavilion opposite her island grave in Althorp, is self-evidently absurd except for a goddess, which seems to be what Diana thought she was." (8)
The unfortunate Princess Diana could be used, in an inchoate way, as a mutable weapon in the cultural war: she was useful to discredit the Royal Family, to dismay the values of middle-culture by her displayed values and by her patronage of astrology and various New Age superstitions, and she helped cast the entire concept of tradition into disrepute.
The Diana episode was important but hard to understand. The funeral seemed an episode of mass emotional derangement, yet at the same time it was hard to find anyone who took it tragically or even seriously, and in a short time the tidal wave of hysteria evaporated, leaving hardly a puddle behind.
Since the end of the Soviet Union and the K.G.B.-manipulated and -bank-rolled fronts, more rabid anti-Western works of Liberation Theology of the "kill a colonialist for Christ" variety have tended to disappear gradually from religious bookshops and from the agenda of progressive religious conferences.
However, in 1999 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey, said he believed the Church of England was but one generation away from extinction. In October 2000, Carey said: "A tacit atheism prevails." He decided to attend a racism awareness course to rid the church of institutional racism. The Roman Catholic Primate of England and Wales, Cardinal Basil Hume, said in the same year: "We seem to be, at the end of our Millennium, sinking back to a kind of barbarism."
Blair, who appears to be a regular church-goer, is also the apparent centre of a Government and a prevailing set of nomenklatura attitudes and policies hostile to the core values of established culture. His attitude to a major wrecker of Western civic values, the lying and perjured sexual predator William Clinton, appeared to be one of total obsequiousness. He has claimed: (9)
"I'm a practising Christian and that's part of me -- there's no point in denying it. [I believe] religious belief wasn't something you shut away from the world but something that meant you had to go out and act."
Yet Blair voted for the further liberalisation of abortion (which he claimed to oppose), the lowering of the age of consent for homosexual activity and the repeal of section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which had banned promoting homosexuality in schools, all of which most Christians would probably think contrary to basic tenets of Christianity. He refused to support the Archbishop of Canterbury in criticising adultery among politicians. This appeared to be not because homosexuality or adultery might be right or wrong in themselves, or public business at all, but because support or opposition to them were cultural weapons.
In March 2000, Mrs. Cherie Blair, not an elected official, though a part-time judge, claimed that "change will be brought about by necessity," to ensure that of 1.7 million jobs allegedly to be created in the following 11 years, 1.1 million would be filled by women. This implied not only that men would be discriminated against, but that there would be pressure applied to force yet more women out of the family and homemaking role, thus inevitably adding to the numbers of children brought up in abnormal circumstances and without a mother at home -- a direct blow to the maintenance of intact families.
Pressures in this direction were revealed in the Budget announced a few days later: nothing in the budget was designed to help children see more of their mothers, rather the reverse. It had previously been announced that 450,000,000 [pounds sterling] would be spent providing every teenager in Britain with a "Learning Mentor" to give advice on problems, the old-fashioned institution of parents being history. (10)
Michael Cockerill, writing admiringly in The New Statesman, (11) claimed that many people found Blair's "professed commitment to moral values hard to take" because Blair kept company with both God and Mammon and had the cosiest relationship with capitalists and tycoons to whom he presented New Labour as nothing to fear. This essentially nineteenth-century, Tawney-derived, view of religion and capitalism misses the point: the significant contrast is between Blair's professed commitment to moral values and New Labour's relationship with an amoral (at bottom anti-Christian) cultural order, predicated in part upon its war against the "permanent things."
Blair has called the Australian-born Anglican clergyman Peter Thompson "the person who most influenced me." Thompson wrote in an introduction to the book Jobs of Our Own: Alternatives to the Market and the State, by former Australian Labor politician Race Mathews, in lyrical terms. That Blair could proclaim as his mentor the author of such material seems evidence of a strange divorce from reality as well as from taste.
The "Third Way" which the book examines is the distributist, Catholic-oriented, philosophy of G. K. Chesterton and others: a Christian society of small property-owners and worker-owned co-operatives. The Mondragon industrial co-operative in Spain is probably the best-known example. The fact that New Labour is also described as a third way between capitalism and socialism seems little more than linguistic coincidence. Anything less like the Chestertonian-distributist vision than the Britain of New Labour is hard to imagine.
By 1998 the rate of first marriages was almost the same as the rate of divorces, the two lines on the graph having moved rapidly towards intersection since about 1971. (12)
Blair and four other senior Ministers -- Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, Home Secretary Jack Straw, Culture Minister Chris Smith and Public Service Minister David Clark -- were reported to belong to the Christian Socialist Movement, which marked its opposition to tradition by appointing a lesbian as chief executive. Blair also has reasserted political control of Anglican episcopal appointments.
Blair's own beliefs and values, if they exist at all, remain enigmatic.
Blair supported the sale of The Daily Express, a major middle-market newspaper, to Mr. Richard Desmond, whose wealth had been built upon pornography. It appeared that Mr. Desmond was responsible for more than half the pornography on sale in the United Kingdom. Shortly before the sale Blair signalled his personal approval by inviting Mr. Desmond to Downing Street, for a chat with himself and press secretary Alistair Campbell. (13) There were piquant memories, for some, of times when young men had been prosecuted for obscene publishing, which included adding genitalia to pictures of Rupert Bear, one of the most venerable Express institutions.
Blair claimed in 1997: (14)
"I am a modern man. I am part of the rock and roll generation. The Beatles, colour television -- that's the generation I came from."
In an article in The Daily Telegraph in November 1999, Blair claimed: "I adore our rich cultural heritage," claiming he had himself recently seen a production of King Lear and had marvelled at the genius of Shakespeare. Yet the choice of the word "adore" seems odd, artificial, embarrassing. It is not a word men normally use to express enthusiasm in such a context. Certainly it seems a strange word for describing King Lear. Had Blair noticed what King Lear was actually about?
Fox-hunting has a place similar to Christianity in the nomenklatura mindset: that is, a major icon of enemy culture, and part of what Keith Waterhouse encapsulated brilliantly as "the hate that dare not speak its name."
Both sides in the culture war treat it with more importance than it apparently deserves, and indeed it is one of the few areas in which the other side appears to realise there actually is a culture war, a fact which appears to have escaped its collective notice where many more important issues are involved.
The Observer of 1 March 1998 said:
"It is not so much the killing of foxes that concern those who want to see it banned. It is its ritualisation into an exclusive sport which commands a key role, albeit small, in our culture, that so many find offensive."
Labour M.P. Gordon Prentice claimed that enjoyment of hunting was: "what distinguished those who pursue blood-sports from those who don't." He continued: "I haven't come across someone who rides in this hunt who doesn't say they enjoy it." He said the "animal welfare thing" was only an aspect of class-war. Nor was proletarian enjoyment of hunting objectionable to Prentice. He was not in disfavour of gunpacks, a sport popular in some Welsh Labour constituencies, where hounds drive foxes towards the guns. Interviewing Prentice for The Spectator, Boris Johnson wrote:
"`Are you a vegetarian?' I ask ... `Oh God,' he snorts. Of course he isn't. It's nothing to do with loving animals and all to do with hating certain people."
The chief Parliamentary opponent of fox-hunting, Mike Foster, supports angling. Indeed, it was reported in July 2001, that the Government intended sending "hundreds" of young deliquents on fishing trips with taxpayers' money in the hope of luring them away from crime -- part of a 5-million [pounds sterling] drive to encourage angling. It would be called, naturally, Get Hooked on Fishing. Equipment would be supplied and it was planned to attract 100,000 new young participants. (15) It is quite obvious that being hooked causes fish extreme pain and, furthermore, most recreational angling in England is for inedible course fish.
The anti-hunting campaign springs not from any aversion to cruelty to animals but the cultural and historical associations of stirrup-cups, rubicund, John Bull-like masters of fox-hounds, little girls with ponies and hard hats (superficially resembling baseball caps, but culturally expressing a world of difference), red coats and pinks, bugle-calls and horsemanship, and in general a form of colour at odds with manipulable mass-culture. Fay Weldon said that with the banning on hunting achieved it would be "goodbye to John Peel and tally-ho, and Olde England will be no more, except in theme parks". More than a century before, the Anglo-Australian versifier Adam Lindsay Gordon had written: (16)
"Yet if once we efface the joys of the chase From the land, and outroot the Stud, Good-bye to the Anglo-Saxon race! Farewell to the Norman blood!"
The attack on hunting seems a British phenomenon: in France la chasse on horseback is taken largely for granted.
More than one hundred anti-hunting saboteurs, wearing terrorist-style black balaclavas and wielding iron bars, axe-handles and baseball bats, ambushed the Hursley Hambledon Hunt near Warnford, Hampshire. These were out to get not only the riders but, even more, the spectators. One twenty-five-year-old man, watching a hunt for the first time, was bludgeoned four times in the head. Scores of people were injured, including a woman and a baby in cars cut by broken glass when the saboteurs smashed the windows with baseball bats. Elderly men, women and children were special targets, for obvious reasons. A sixty-two-year-old eye surgeon had bones in his face broken. A forty-nine-year-old Naval Officer, who received three broken ribs when beaten with a pick-axe handle when trying to stop his wife's car being smashed, said the attackers shouted: "The people have spoken!"
Soon after, women and children at the Puckeridge Hunt in Herefordshire were beaten up on three occasions by saboteurs who arrived in unmarked vans. There were many reports of isolated hunt followers and uninvolved spectators being set upon and beaten with metal bars and clubs.
Following this, Blair denounced the Tories as the Party of fox-hunting, and claimed that the Tories obstructed a Bill to ban hunting in the House of Lords which his Government had actually allowed to lapse in the Commons. Attacks on hunt-followers and their families continued. In September 2000, a kennel-master in Surrey was forced to flee with his pregnant wife and fifteen-month-old baby when their house was attacked by about thirty hunt saboteurs. Two other women on the property hid in the kennels. Police had informed them that the mob was on its way and, instead of stopping it, advised them to flee.
One worker was hit by a brick, and a policeman attempting to protect the family as they fled was sprayed with gas. Police finally sent a helicopter and uniformed reinforcements after the two police on the scene were overpowered, but no arrests were made.
There followed many other reports of people involved in hunting and their families being stalked and attacked in their homes. However at the East Devon Hunt it was a saboteur who needed hospital treatment, after being bitten by a fox.
(1.) The Electronic Telegraph, 20 November 1998.
(2.) The Guardian, 1 February 2001.
(3.) New Scientist, 18 July 1998.
(4.) The Guardian, 8 January 2001.
(5.) The Guardian, 12 December 2000.
(6.) The Big Issue, 19-25 June 2000.
(7.) Quadrant, April 2000.
(8.) The New Statesman, 5 March 1999.
(9.) The New Statesman, 15 February 2000.
(10.) U.K. Mail, 8 February 2000.
(11.) The New Statesman, 15 February 2000.
(12.) Britain 2001: The Official Yearbook of the United Kingdom (Office for National Statistics, The Stationery Office, London 2001), p. 107.
(13.) The Spectator, 6 January 2001.
(14.) The Spectator, 18 September 1999.
(15.) U.K. Mail, 17 July 2001.
(16.) Adam Lindsay Gordon, "The Chase and the Race", in A. P. Wavell F.M. (ed.), Other Men's Flowers (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1981), p. 405.
DR. HAL G. P. COLEBATCH is the author of a range of books and articles, including Blair's Britain (Claridge Press, London, 1999), and has for many years been a commentator on Australian and international political and cultural issues.
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|Author:||Colebatch Hal G.P.|
|Publication:||National Observer - Australia and World Affairs|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2002|
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